Slovak Women of Vojvodina
Just over 56,000 Slovaks remain in the province of Vojvodina today, many whose families have lived here for centuries, including my own. May 25th was the 240 year anniversary of the arrival of the first of them who were sent here by Queen Maria Teresa when they refused to convert to Catholicism. They populated the Pannonian Plains along the Danube, Sava and Tisa rivers and were expected to protect the Hungarian border from the Ottoman Empire. When they arrived, the flat land which had originally been the bottom of the Pannonian Sea was nothing but swampland. The Slovaks dried up the swamp by building canals and man made lakes, cleared the land, settled farms and cultivated the land into the richest soil in Europe.
Through the centuries these Slovaks have been under the control of various countries and governments, including the Hungarians, the Austro-Hungarians, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Yugoslavia, and now Serbia. Despite persecution, expropriation, countless wars, communism, Tito, and other hardships, this group of proud Slovaks has maintained their culture with their own unique blend of cuisine, dress, religious ceremonies, music and the preservation of the “old Slovak” language that dates back to the early 1700s.
The women in these pictures display the traditional dress of Slovak women in Vojvodina. On the day I took these pictures, these women had celebrated The Holy Day of Pentecost, marking the day of the descent of the ghosts upon the apostles. While dressed in their costumes they rode their bikes to church, sang and celebrated in the morning service, then rode back home. They spent Monday afternoon sitting in their yards often visiting with one another, watching the world go by, on a rare day of rest. A woman dressed in black is in mourning; the woman below had recently lost her son, a priest in a local village.
Each piece of the traditional outfit is handmade. Members of the village specialize in making certain pieces: one woman will make the handmade shoes, another the underskirts (they are made of layers and layers of heavy crinolin, easily weighing over 20 lbs), another makes the overskirt, still another woman embroiders the apron and shirt. And then there are the hair pieces, jewelry and scarves to be made and knitted vests, sweaters and heavy woolen socks. I counted over 15 pieces that are assembled for these costumes. Each village has their own distinct colors and patterns. The surprising part – these Slovak women do not wear underwear, just a slip.
When I was little, my grandmother gave me two Slovak outfits – one red, one blue; I still have them today. On my recent visit to Vojvodina, I was treated to a special surprise by my cousin and her friends who dressed me in an authentic Slovak costume. It took 4 people and 1/2 hr to get it on and it was very heavy to wear. One day I will share these pictures in public. Maybe. And yes, I kept my underwear on.
When asked if they minded me taking their picture, most readily obliged and often blushed. They are rarely photographed (there is little tourism here); I was lucky to have a peak into the rhythm of their daily lives. After the pictures were taken I thanked them and they replied in Slovak, “with grace.”